Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio must deal with absences, injuries

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was a night of disappointment in AT&T Stadium for the Mexico national team.

The 1-0 scoreline against Croatia was in many ways the least concerning aspect. Of course, El Tri would've liked to have won in front of almost 80,000 fans in Texas, but the bigger picture is that Mexico's World Cup opener is in 81 days against Germany and the team received a hard hit after confidence-boosting results against Belgium, Poland and Iceland.

The primary concern surrounds the injuries to Santos Laguna's Nestor Araujo and Eintracht Frankfurt's Carlos Salcedo. They are two starting defenders for El Tri and players who have become important parts of the national team during coach Juan Carlos Osorio's time in charge.

But that's not the only worry, with fellow centre-back Diego Reyes also picking up a hamstring injury, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona having a right ankle problem and midfielder Hector Herrera an unspecified ailment that Osorio is clearly very concerned about.

It's entirely possible all will be available for the World Cup, but with not many games remaining in their respective leagues, the question is whether they'll go into camp ahead of the tournament in rhythm and with minutes under their belts.

The injury situation will deeply bother Osorio, who has given a group of about 40 Mexico players a preparation plan in part designed to reduce the likelihood of injury. And while accidents can always happen, the manager is surely disappointed that Mexico's top three right-sided centre-backs all suffered injuries on the same night.

Aside from the injuries, there were other issues for El Tri. It simply didn't click for Mexico on Tuesday. There was never a point in the game in which Mexico exerted real authority and the kind of verve, authority and confidence El Tri has shown in fits of late.

Captain Andres Guardado was strangely subdued, as were Hirving Lozano and Javier Hernandez; Carlos Vela was the closest thing Mexico had to a creative spark.

"We didn't create sufficient goal situations for a team that plays to attack, even with six attacking players," Osorio said afterwards. "Not even in the second half. We lacked effectiveness and it is an aspect we have to improve."

Critics will and have pointed to the 3-4-3 (diamond) formation in the first half. Osorio attempted to create numeric superiority (four vs. three) in the centre of the pitch in the first 45 minutes, but the 4-3-3 used in the second half matched Croatia's system and Mexico looked more at ease.

"This is a call to attention," said goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa after the match. "It is a practice game; of course it is useful for the coach to make decisions about the final list, see people that can help and from the next [game] on, not experiment."

Osorio is no fool, and he received some valuable feedback from that first half and Ochoa's words, even if the critics were once again taking pot shots and there were even calls on social media for him to be ousted.

"If they criticize when you win, they have a feast when we lose," wrote former Mexico striker Jared Borgetti. "Everyone on the outside loves to opine. And what's the worst is that they believe they are right."

The more inexperienced players Osorio fielded also struggled against a Croatia team without Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. Jorge Hernandez, Omar Govea and Rodolfo Pizarro each started the match for Mexico, but failed to make the necessary impact in what was a major opportunity to prove to Osorio that they are ready for a place in the squad in Russia.

"In general, I think it was a good opportunity for Jorge, Govea and Rodolfo Pizarro, but I do think that it was a game that was at the moment was too much for them, but that's part of developing and consolidating players as well," Osorio said.

The coach regularly states that when he has his best team out, Mexico can match any side in the world. It's not hyperbole. El Tri are a good side and Osorio is a shrewd manager. But Tuesday's match did highlight that the depth in this Mexico squad is not the same as in elite national teams.

For example, El Tri were screaming out for injured Hector Herrera's presence in midfield to bring some order and a calm presence. No player has had more touches of the ball in games since Osorio took charge, or created as many chances, or had as many assists. Herrera's absence was sorely missed and highlighted just how important he is to Mexico's chances at the World Cup. There is no player near to him in his position in the depth chart.

You could say the same to a degree about Hector Moreno, Guardado, Hernandez, Miguel Layun, Lozano, and even Araujo and Salcedo.

Even in defeat, Tuesday's game likely reinforced Osorio's plans for the World Cup and helped settle internal debates about playing structures and players. But more than anything, he'll be praying that the spate of injuries in the previous couple of weeks will be the last before the World Cup.